Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

11/06/2012

A Private-Public Affair

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

"Do you realize that there hasn't been any public spaces done by the government since the time of the Marcoses?" Asked an architect friend while visiting Manila a month back.

In fact, I hadn't. With all the construction going on, only then did I realize that none of it was really meant for the public at all. Sure, it was meant for consumers and target markets, but none of it was meant for the pedestrian passers-by.

Now, that is a shame.

One Central Park West, a POPS in New York City via POPS@MAS.
There's a lot of work to be done when it comes to urban design in the Philippines, but as I wrote a few weeks back, the main thing to keep in mind is how to build for the benefit of the bottom 70 percent.

In Manila, there are many places one can go to for entertainment, but they all fall under one category: consumptive diversion. Whenever I have guests coming to Manila, I invariably take them out to dine or to shop. It is Asia's shopping capital, home to three of the largest malls in the world. We received the honor about two years ago, but I have no doubt we've built larger shopping complexes since then.

Others might take pride in the designation, but I really don't. Whenever I hear that, I wonder how many other things we could have built in place of these modern-day temples. Manila's shopping malls are designed to keep you in. On Sundays, church services and family activities are held there, just to lure even more people in search of something to do.

I know the government can't really be counted on to help build public spaces, but perhaps the private sector can. In New York and San Francisco (mostly), there is something called a Privately-Owned Public Space (POPS, for short). As its name suggests these spaces are meant to be public areas a developer has agreed to build in exchange for building concessions from the city.

590 Madison Avenue in New York City via APOPS@MAS.
Though some of the earlier New York POPS have fulfilled their expectations, the city's planning website admits:
The results of the program have been mixed. An impressive amount of public space has been created in parts of the city with little access to public parks, but much of it is not of high quality. Some spaces have proved to be valuable public resources, but others are inaccessible or devoid of the kinds of amenities that attract public use. 
In San Francisco, these spaces exist but no signs inform the public of their presence, resulting in posts like Curbed SF's map of San Francisco's secret gardens.

But lately, more scrutiny has inspired a new wave of awareness and interest in ensuring well-designed POPS. A new interactive mapping tool launched by Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space at the Municipal Art Society of New York (APOPS@MAS) allow users to visit these sites and get information about privately owned public spaces throughout the city. The site also enlists citizens to help police these POPS. Do these spaces fulfill their stated objectives? If not, APOPS@MAS, "promise to review such discrepancies and get to the bottom of them."

Though the Philippine government has yet to act on something like this, Manila's developers are slowly (very slowly) realizing that there is a need to provide more than just air conditioning to keep their customers.

Fort Bonifacio's High Street is an open air mall with a great expanse of playspace integrated onto it. Ayala Land's malls usually have nice fountain areas and plazas tucked in the womb of its malls. It may not be the High Line but it's a good start. It's enough to show developers and citizens, there is more to life than malling.

Now, I just hope more developers see the triple bottomline benefit of providing a relaxing ambiance, or the public stops settling for the endless rows of shopping stalls and starts asking what else can be done to improve public life in Manila.

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